I have been quite busy the past few weeks as the semester winds down, but I wanted to pick up on a topic begun by Jay at mu-pàd-da and continued by Duane at Abnormal Interests. Jay was musing/freaking out about how many languages he needed to master to be a competent in the field, while Duane was reflecting on being educated in general.
I have somehow gotten myself into a Comparative Semitics comp along with Hebrew and Akkadian comps, which means in under a year I need to have relative mastery of Hebrew (classical, late, DSS, Rabbinic), Akkadian (three dialects), Aramaic (across the dialects including Syriac and some Neo-Aramaic), and all other languages represented in Bergsträsser (South Arabic, Classical and Modern Arabic, Ge’ez, etc). Add to this the necessary modern scholarly languages (French, German, Modern Hebrew) and it is quite an impressive/daunting list.
Now the problem is, I try to explain to people what it is exactly that I do with my life and they inevitably ask me “Wow, how many languages do you speak?” Well, one. I don’t really speak any of those languages. I mean we read texts aloud in class, and I can comprehend them aurally for the most part, but I don’t have competence in creating new sentences. I suppose I speak French OK, and I could probably get by with my Hebrew if I was in Israel, but I never have an opportunity to converse in German, much less any of the other modern or classical Semitic languages. So how many of these languages do I really “know”?
On the plus side, according to Duane being educated requires a broad knowledge base including math through partial differential equations and statistics. Well, with my Mechanical Engineering degree I have that covered. Frankly, you don’t need to know calculus, but I wish a few more biblical scholars had a basic grasp of statistics.